'The Green Knight' Director David Lowery Talks About That Ending

The Green Knight further establishes a growing tradition of David Lowery films that are challenging, thought-provoking, and downright entertaining vehicles for the director’s idiosyncratic musings. As with his last movie, A Ghost Story, Lowery’s take on the classic Arthurian legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight turns a simple enough premise into a fantastical journey concerned with thoughts of goodness, mortality, and even the nature of our very existence. It’s some heavy stuff, with an inspired ending that leaves viewers to turn the movie over in their heads long after the credits roll. Luckily, Lowery’s all too happy to talk about the intricacies of The Green Knight, and he’s more candid about it than you’d think.

Major spoilers for the ending of The Green Knight follow.

About That Ending

During a recent Reddit AMA, Lowery didn’t even blink when asked to explain all sorts of details about his densely-packed medieval epic. Since this was at the forefront of many a Redditor’s mind, let’s first dig into Lowery’s explanations surrounding all aspects of that ending. Here’s Lowery’s response to whether he always intended for there to be an ambiguous ending:

“It’s not ambiguous so much as it’s a little bit beneath the surface, ready to be drawn up. It ends exactly as it was scripted.”

Count me among the many who watched this film and came away both impressed and befuddled by the prolonged detour into the alternate events of Gawain’s (Dev Patel) future. As /Film’s Chris Evangelista wrote about at length, the final 20 minutes or so feel like the key to unlocking much of the rest of the movie. While Lowery did in fact rejigger the final shot to leave a more open-ended conclusion, I actually agree that much of the supposed ambiguity overall melts away the more I think about the film. Everything becomes much clearer when you reflect on just how much the conclusion positions Gawain’s beheading (and more than that, his desire to honor his word) as a good thing, compared to the hopeless future Lowery walks us through.

And speaking of that final shot, a fan asked Lowery, “I was curious on the relationship between Gaiwan and the Green Knight. At the end when GK smiles at him and says ‘off with your head.’ Was it meant to be friendly thinking Gaiwan has learnt his lesson. I felt like GK saw something of himself in Gaiwan right there. Was that the intention for them?” Lowery’s reply was succinct:

“Yes. Exactly!!!!!”

Got to love Lowery just going ahead and publicly endorsing someone’s interpretation of a crucial point in his movie. Personally, I tend to take most of what filmmakers state after the fact in interviews (or Reddit AMAs) for no more or less than what they’re worth — an extra layer of context that doesn’t supersede what’s presented on-screen. It’s always validating to feel like you have the “correct” take on a movie based on agreement with the director, I get it, but where’s the fun in that? It also feels like the exact opposite mentality a movie like The Green Knight encourages. Still a funny response on Lowery’s part, though!

Another Redditor offered up an intriguing observation: “I’m not going to explicitly ask you to reveal anything that might remove the ambiguity from the ending…but, am I delusional for thinking the Green Knight’s face subtly changes to resemble Joel Edgerton for a brief, close-up moment in the final scene?” Lowery’s response:

“It does! Not delusional! And he’s not the only face it changes to! Now you have something to look for if you watch it again.”

Now here’s a valuable bit of after-the-fact filmmaker insight. I apparently must have blinked and missed this on my first viewing, but by all accounts, Lowery personally worked with the VFX department to ensure that the Green Knight briefly takes on the faces of every major character Gawain has encountered to that point in the story — including Gawain himself!

This alone adds a whole new level of mystery and abstract meaning to the events of the film. In the original poem, the Lord that Gawain meets at a lonesome castle near the end of his journey (played by Edgerton in the film) is revealed to have been the Green Knight in disguise. Lowery doesn’t go so far as to confirm that explicitly, but this digital effects trickery certainly hints at the idea that everyone in the story serves as a test of Gawain’s character.

Release the Lowery Cut?

David Lowery was among the many filmmakers who saw their carefully-laid plans go up in smoke once the pandemic hit in March of 2020. Initially set to premiere during the South by Southwest Film Festival, the prolonged shutdown gave Lowery the chance to rework the movie without the pressure of an impending time crunch. Asked about the difference between that original cut and his current one, Lowery responded:

“It was more a question of pace and less of content. I had cut the film too quickly initially. In returning to it, I let it breathe more and included more of the world. It was still deliberate, but I let myself get impatient early on and kept cutting things short. I was convinced it needed to be less than two hours for some arbitrary reason. Thankfully I came to my senses. That long shot of Gawain riding away from the castle never changed though! And the last 25 minutes of the movie never changed from the first assembly onward. It was really the second reel, the Too-Quick Year, that changed a lot. I slowed that down. And fine tuned everything else. I removed one scene (my favorite, alas!) and added back a few beats with Alicia that I had removed for some crazy reason.”

As much as I’d love the chance to compare the two, the theatrical cut clearly was the intended version of the movie. Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, but at least such a dark cloud could come with this one small silver lining. In happier news, viewers will soon be able to watch The Green Knight at home.

There’s plenty more tidbits buried throughout that AMA, such as the fact that Lowery’s two “always watch” movies happen to be Step Brothers and Under the Skin, so be sure to check it out here.

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